The 2016 offseason was a controversial one for the Atlanta Hawks, as the team elected to move on from Al Horford and Jeff Teague in favor of Dwight Howard, Dennis Schröder and a nice future asset in the form of Taurean Prince. Those maneuvers did not curry favor in every corner of the internet (including this one), but Matt Moore of CBS Sports weighed in on the “most underrated” player on Atlanta’s roster and he came up with an interesting choice.
That choice was Dwight Howard.
Initially, I recoiled at the sight of Howard’s name, simply because I don’t personally find him underrated. Part of that undoubtedly comes from the fact that Howard is probably overrated locally in Atlanta, but Moore does acknowledge that “the Hawks are one of several teams that you could classify as collectively underrated” and even that “there isn't a properly rated player on their roster”.
Following that declaration, he dug in on Howard and made some interesting points:
Howard still has many of the flaws he's always had; he tries to post-up too much and while he seems likable as far as teammates go, he also never sets a tone. But here's the thing: Even if you ignore the efforts Howard has made to change the perception of his maturity, his overall impact still matters. He was 98th percentile on non-post-ups last year around the rim. Those are easy shots, but they are also shots you need to make because they're easy. He's a finisher, and that matters.
It will certainly be nice for the Hawks to have a potentially dominant finisher around the rim, especially one that (we think) knows his limits on that end of the floor... outside of the aforementioned post-ups.
Moore also described Howard’s potential defensive impact:
Defensively, the Rockets never really let Howard switch out on pick and rolls. Maybe he's not capable of that anymore, but it'll be interesting to see if the Hawks use him in more effective ways than the Rockets did, which often left him defensively neutralized on non-rolling bigs. He was typically showing before screens so hard that it made it easy for the guard to go away from the pick and get an easy opportunity.
Defense and rebounding are the areas in which Howard is not a source of worry. He is certainly a capable and potentially excellent defender when healthy and engaged, and Mike Budenholzer’s pedigree as a defensive craftsman (last year’s team finished second in the NBA in defensive rating) is encouraging when trying to fit Howard into the mix. I would push back on Howard being underrated defensively, simply because perception hasn’t caught up to reality for everyone in remembering that he simply isn’t the same player from his prime, but that is largely semantic point.
In short, I don’t agree that Dwight Howard is the most underrated player on the roster, and that distinction likely should go to Millsap or a few others. Still, the national perception of Howard has potentially soured to the point of unfairness and he is still a very capable and effective player that should be recognized as such.